Herpetologist Robert Drewes will forever be remembered for his two-inch Phallus.
In the upcoming issue of the journal Mycologia, scientists describe a new species of stinkhorn fungus from Africa, which they christened Phallus drewesii in honor of their expedition leader.
“I am utterly delighted,” Drewes told the San Jose Mercury News, “The funny thing is that it is the second smallest known mushroom in this genus and it grows sideways, almost limp.”
As the California Academy of Sciences’ curator of herpetology, Drewes has spent his career wrangling snakes and chasing after frogs. Since 2001, he has been leading scientific expeditions to the sparsely populated islands of Sâo Tomé and Príncipe off the coast of West Africa, home to hundreds of plant and animal species found nowhere else on earth.
In 2006, he made the mistake of bringing along his longtime friend, Dennis Desjardin, a mushroom expert at San Francisco State University who recognized the phallic fungus sprouting from a piece of wood as new to science. Stinkhorns like Phallus drewsii, are found mostly in the tropics and their characteristic shape helps them emit an odor of dung or carrion that attracts flies to disperse their spores. The stinkhorn was one of 225 fungus species that expedition scientists collected during two trips to the region, and it is the third species named after Drewes, who also has a snake and a frog to call his own.
“None of my colleagues . . . will let me live it down,” Drewes told the newspaper, “But I love it. It is a form of immortality.”
Image of stinkhorn courtesy Brian Perry